Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lost in the Forest

Today while walking with Gracie on the well-traveled trail behind the medical clinic, I took a detour up a side path to have a pee. (I love peeing in the woods, a habit formed while living on Lasqueti.) In the interests of discretion, I went a little farther up the path than I had in the past. I noticed that it seemed to continue through the forest, which surprised me since I was sure I had gone up that way before and the path just petered out into thick salal.

So I followed the narrow trail and found myself in another world. It was almost like falling through the looking glass. The unfamiliar path, the light slanting through the trees in a different way, the birds chirping  and swooping. I remembered how much I had enjoyed walking with the dogs up old logging roads when I lived in the Kootenays, going where we hadn't been before, getting a bit lost. I love that feeling. I never felt at risk in any way, even though I may have been many kilometers from other humans, and I rarely told anyone where I was going. Yet I am not an adventurer, I just feel safe and protected amidst the trees, and trust the dogs will eventually get me back to "civilization".

But I am probably the odd one out. The fear of being lost in the woods is a foundational myth in many cultures, particularly that of Canada. For years I have carried with me the clipping below. The story captured my attention because it seemed so preposterous. In August of 1909, the Governor-General of Canada, Earl Grey, got completely bushed in just a few hours. I loved how the formidable wilds of British Columbia got the better of him. I pictured someone like Lord Downton being plopped down on the north shore of Jervis Inlet, thinking he would bag a couple of grouse before returning home in time to dress for dinner. The arrogance of the British aristocracy, asserting their privilege to raise a ruckus in the woods and prove their dominance over the land (and Nature).
The small clipping has grown into many pages of notes. I have visited the BC Provincial Archives in search of more detail. I have found photographs of Earl Grey performing many official duties on this tour of the west coast, such as opening Vancouver's Granville Street Bridge and being made an honourary member of the Arctic Brotherhood in Dawson City. The story seems a natural segue from the Codex Canadensis work, and so I am about to begin a new piece. It will be an embroidery, on linen, quite big. I'm thinking of something along the lines of a page of the Illustrated News, from the time before photographs were used in newspapers, a precursor to the News at Six.
Earl Grey, in the back seat, visits the hollow tree in Stanley Park.
 Am I being disrespectful in making fun of the Queen's representative? Would I fare any better myself in the same situation? Yes, and probably not. But I forge ahead anyway. 2017 marks 150 years of Canada as a nation, yet the celebrations are muted in the wake of Truth and Reconciliation hearings regarding the residential schools that were part of a concerted governmental effort to destroy indigenous cultures. Rightfully, many of the touring exhibitions and commissioned works focused on the sesquicentennial are created by First Nations artists. It is not a time to celebrate our colonial past, but to question it.
Official portrait of Earl Grey.

Monday, May 08, 2017

A Modest Mat

Thanks to everyone who commented on the previous post, you are kind and wise. Someone shared this practical advice on how to keep from going insane in these modern times: nothing radical but it's  good to know that others are in the same boat. And, as Facebook keeps reminding me, I was in a similarly bleak mood last year at this time, so maybe it's spring fever.
It needs to be bigger, Mom!
One of the silly projects that I have been working on is this braided mat for Gracie. I have made just one braided rug before, and the recent retreat on Thetis Island was a chance to improve my skills. Diane Tobias, braided rug expert, and Val Galvin of Renditions in Rags generously lent their advice and encouragement.
I braided along, using up three skirts, a pair of pants, and part of a tweed jacket, all wool. Other participants in the retreat remarked on how flat my rug was - I guess buckling can be a problem for beginners. I didn't mark my increases, just judged my progress by eye and feel. A small revelation that came to mind was that having skill in other fibre arts (knitting, weaving, spinning, hooking, embroidery) gives one the sensitivity and awareness to understand the structure of a piece and make small modifications in tension, count, grist and other technical aspects to produce something that "works". In other words, transferable skills!
The mat is not yet done. I will be adding an edge of darker greys and black, and doing a butt join!

A nice edge to finish it off, and the butt join went very smoothly. Now I just have to round up that cute dog to lie on it.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Not to Be a Downer, But...

Well, that last post was something of a barn-burner, in that I am left feeling that I have nothing more to write about. I considered re-posting the first post I ever wrote, The Blazing World, as a bookend and calling it done. Just looking at the date of that first post, May 17, 2006, makes me realize I passed my ten-year blog-o-versary without even noticing. I have spent the last month pondering what has changed since I started writing this blog and what future use it might have.

Right off, I have to consider the possibility that I am mired in depression. I take my meds, but it is SO hard to get out of bed in the morning, and engaging with anybody other than my dogs leaves me cranky and exhausted. Maybe I am over serotinized? I asked my doctor and she was non-committal. "Just stay on this dose and we'll check again in a few months."

It could be the weather. It has been an unusually cold, wet, late spring in this part of the world, and I haven't been able to get into the garden, which always makes me feel better. I also haven't made another serious piece of work since December, although I have been busy with various small pieces and other projects. I have a new idea in the works, something different, that I am eager to get going on but it needs further gestation.

I have also been thinking about posting earlier work, looking at stuff from the 90's that has been languishing away on slides, and seeing how it connects to my current work. Using the blog more as a place of reflection and documentation rather than showcasing the latest new thing. (The taste for "new" is so wearying.)

But it is hard to take the possible value of my own work seriously when the world is in flames. We are closer to nuclear midnight than we ever have been since the clock started. Climate change is real, accelerating and the evidence is all around us. There is a vain, arrogant, madman in the White House. How is is possible to carry on as if things are normal? As an artist, I have always felt a responsibility to engage with the world around me, but now I find myself questioning whether anything I can make or do will change anything, even in myself. And is spending hundreds of hours patiently handstitching something that could get blown up next week the best use of my time? Is it an act of resistance or blind stupidity?

I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way. Banding together with other bleak souls doesn't seem like the answer. Beauty is all around me but I mourn for its fleetingness and vulnerability. I long for peace, both for the world and in my heart.
Heron at dusk on Thetis Island last weekend. He turned and flew away seconds later.